VWBPE 2015: Ebbe Altberg – LL’s Next Generation platform

On Wednesday, March 18th, Ebbe Altberg gave the keynote presentation at the 8th annual Virtual Worlds Best Practice in Education (VWBPE) conference, which runs from March 18th through 21st inclusive, in both Second Life and OpenSimulator.

Ebbe Altberg: opening keynote at the 2015 Virtual worlds Best Practice in Education conference, March 18th
Ebbe Altberg: opening keynote at the 2015 Virtual worlds Best Practice in Education conference, March 18th

His key address lasted a little over an hour, in which he outlined the Lab’s approach to education and non-profits, provided some insight into what Lab’s future plans, and discussed further information on the Next Generation platform. Following this, he entered into a Q&A session, which ran beyond the main session time, switching from voice to text chat in the process.

The following is a transcript of his core comments on the Lab’s next generation platform. These commence at the 31:20 mark into the official video of the event, although obviously, mention is made of both in reference to education earlier on in his presentation, as Ebbe discusses education, issues of accessibility, etc. I’ve included audio excerpts here as well, for further ease of listening to his comments whilst reading. Time stamps to both the audio tracks and the video are supplied.

The Summary

Click the links below to go the relevant section.

Ebbe Linden as he appeared in-world at the VWBPE 2015 conference
Ebbe Linden as he appeared in-world at the VWBPE 2015 conference

On the Name

[00:00 / 31:20] So, the future platform for virtual experiences. We’ve said that the next generation platform, we still don’t have a name for this thing; we have a code name internally, but we don’t want to leak that out or use that, because that could just be confusing and distracting, and it’s probably going to change soon anyway. So we just refer to it as “the next generation platform”.

[00:21 / 31:42] We do not refer to it as “SL 2.0”, because that might imply a little too much linearity, and we don’t want to necessarily constrain ourselves by the past; but we also want to obviously take advantage of, and leverage, our learnings from the past.

Progress to Date

[00:39 / 31:38] But the progress is going every well. I would say we’re about 8-9 months in on working on this; I would say the last six months have been absolute, full-on with a big crew. We’re talking close to 40 people or more; probably 30+ just engineers, and then obviously a bunch of product managers and designers working on this product.

New User Discovery and Experience

[01:12 / 33:33] And there’s a number of areas where we think about it quite differently from Second Life, and we did spend quite a lot of time thinking about why did Second Life hit the ceiling, if you will. You know, many years ago it peaked at 1.1 million monthly users and these days it’s around 900,000, so it’s not a huge difference from the highs and where we are today,

[01:38 / 32:59] But why didn’t it go to five million, ten million, 100 million?  And what can we do to  solve some of the things we thought caused it to sort-of max out there?

The Lab is hoping their next generation platform will bridge the gap between niche and mass adoption. This may prove easier said than done
The Lab is hoping their next generation platform will bridge the gap between niche and mass adoption. This may prove easier said than done

[01:52 / 33:11] One area where we want to think quite differently is discovery; how do I discover an experience? Today you pretty much have to be inside Second Life to discover an experience, and we want to make it a lot easier for people to be able to discover an experience from the outside. So that you can create an experience, and [people can] much more easily find your experience and enter your experience without having to necessarily at that point being aware of the notion of this platform or what other types of things are available to them. They can discover those as they go along. Make it easier for you to bring your audience directly into your experiences.

Platform Accessibility

[02:36 / 33:55] Accessibility. Today, when you leave your PC, you pretty much leave Second Life behind, [so] what can we do to make sure it’s available on more platforms? It’s obviously getting more complicated now with all these VR platforms, so what used to be PC, windows and Mac, which we support today; and then mobile, which you can get access to today if you use a third-party service like SL Go or some other clients that support mobile.

[03:10 / 34:29] But we want to think about mobile as something we can support form the beginning; but again, the number of platforms across mobile, PCs and VR … [there’s] more and more of them. so it’s tough to keep up.  So we are building a next generation platform from the ground up to make possible for us to take advantage of all these different platforms.

Scalability and Creativity

[03:37 / 34:57] Scalability. This is a really important one; an event like this highlights it.  There’s a tremendous amount of effort that goes into putting on  a meeting like this with just a couple of hundred people in-world. We have to put together four corners and you have to do a lot of work, and it’s still creaking at the seams as we speak, to put something like this on.

[04:06 / 35:25] We want [with the] next generation platform to make the size of an event like this to be a trivial exercise, and then figure out how, with various techniques, to make it possible to do events like this for tens of thousands of people.

[04:26 / 35:46] That’s one way to think of scalability: how do you get more people in a region, how do you get more people to be able to participate in an event at the same time. but [there’s] also the scalability for creators. How do you make it possible for creators to not only be able to reach a larger audience, but also make more money, too.

[04:44 / 36:14] Take the classroom that Texas A&M put together for teaching kids chemistry. The developers of that experience of teaching chemistry, they probably did as a one-off, for some fee, job for Texas A&M to create that classroom. When the classroom is used by students at Texas A&M, you know, 20 students, whatever, then that experience is fully in use.

[05:22 / 36:41] What if that developer could have an unlimited number of copies of that experience to rent out or sell, and every institution could use that virtual classroom all at the same time? That makes for a much more appealing prospect for a creator of an experience, and gives them a greater opportunity to monetise their experience. And then we’ll get more high-quality content creators introduced into  the economy, and then everything sort-of heads upwards. So that’s something we think about a lot.

Quality and Ease of Use: Physics, Avatar Design, Shopping

[05:56 / 37:16] We also think about quality. Quality is a range of things: ease of use, quality of physics, lighting, basic performance of how smooth are things, how easy is it to do things, how natural an avatar can we make.

[06:21 / 37:41] The skeleton system in the new avatars we’re working on are way, way, way, more complex than what we have in Second Life.

[06:29 / 37:48] How can we make it easier for people to shop and get dressed and do these types of activities with much higher visual fidelity at the same time. So we think a lot about that.

Revenue Generation for the Lab

[06:46 / 38:05] And then monetisation – the way  we [Linden Lab] monetise. I’d say our business model is a little be strange in Second Life today. We charge you a lot for land, and then we charge you almost nothing for all of the transactions that happen in-world. So, I’ve said this before, but generally we think about how do we lower our property taxes by a lot and at the same time, we’ll have to raise sales taxes to make some of the difference.

[07:15 / 38:35] And then also how can we build a platform that [is] technically less demanding, so that it costs us less to operate all of this content that we’re running all of the time, so that we can have a lower barrier to entry, and make it possible for people to come it and create some really interesting things at very low cost. And so that’s a big focus for us. How can we make less money per user, almost, but have a lot more users, is kind-of the core of the puzzle we’re trying to solve for.

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